Pine is a common material used in outdoor DIY projects because of its affordability and availability. We often use it on outdoor DIY projects and inevitably always get a bunch of comments saying “pine is a bad choice for outdoor projects.”
But is it true?
Though it’s not naturally rot-resistant like cedar, teak, and redwood, pine can still be used on outdoor projects if properly finished.
We’ve built everything from outdoor chairs to privacy screens to tables and bar carts and more with untreated, run-of-the-mill pine. Our oldest outdoor projects were built over 4 years ago and are still looking good as new. The wood is still strong and is showing no signs of rotting.
That said, there are a few things that are contributing to these results. We’ll break them down below and explain what to consider when using pine outdoors and how to make it last longer.
Climate and Humidity
When left untreated, untreated pine can last outdoors anywhere from 3-10 years depending on the climate. In dry climates with low humidity, pine will likely last longer than in areas with high levels of moisture, where the wood is more susceptible to rot, decay, and insect damage.
That said, we do live in the South and experience our fair share of humidity. The winters are pretty mild in terms of moisture, but the summer humidity is no joke.
Most people claim untreated pine will last 5-10 years outside, but you can see that my estimate above was a bit lower. Why? Because how the pine is used and the exposure to moisture will drastically affect things.
I have a friend who lives down in Florida and used untreated pine on her garden beds to save some money. Not only were the garden beds exposed to the Florida sun and rain, but they also had direct contact with moist soil at all times. After 3 years, the untreated pine boards were super rotted and needed to be replaced.
So even though pine can be used outdoors, we do not recommend using it on projects that will be in the ground or have constant/direct contact with soil. Things like planter beds, posts for privacy screens, etc.
To maximize the lifespan of pine outdoors, consider minimizing contact with the ground. We highly recommend some adjustable furniture feet on outdoor furniture. Not only can you use them to level things on an even patio or outdoor surface, it’ll also prevent your wood from soaking in the water from the ground. These little furniture feet will raise it up just enough and create a barrier between the wet ground and your wood.
If possible, you can also place your furniture somewhere covered.
I think the biggest contributing factor to our outdoor pine furniture looking brand new years later (without maintenance) that is that most of our furniture is on a covered porch. Yes, occasionally it still gets wet from intense storms and it does have to withstand varying temperatures and humidity from being outside, but it does not have constant exposure to the sun.
Sun can be detrimental to wood furniture. And not just untreated pine. If your wood furniture is outside with intense sun exposure, it will look weathered and aged much quicker than an item that is in full shade.
If you don’t have a covered area for your furniture or you don’t want it to be in a covered area, that’s okay. We’ll talk about maintaining your wood outdoor furniture to prolong its lifespan in just a moment.
But first, let’s talk about the step that is absolutely imperative to add when using pine outdoors.
Seal Your Wood
If you want to use untreated pine outdoors, it’s super important to seal it with an exterior grade sealer. And please note that I said exterior-grade, not just any sealer.
You can protect it with an outdoor paint, an outdoor stain and sealer combo, or just an exterior sealer like Spar Urethane (which–side note–was originally used for boats).
The reason you want to use something that specifically says it can be used outdoors is so that you get the additional moisture resistance and UV protection. If you use a normal interior wood stain outside, the harsh sun will likely affect the color quickly.
The sun will likely still impact the overall color of a finish, even if it’s exterior-grade, but the effects will be less dramatic. Here’s a side-by-side of two pieces of furniture finished the same way (interior stain topped with 3 coats of Spar Urethane):
The sofa was finished 3 years prior than the side table. Over the years, the sun has tanned the wood to be slightly darker than the freshly finished pine furniture.
Even if your stain or sealer says it’s supposed to last 8-10 years, if it’s starting to look worn and weathered at 2 years, re-seal it. Better yet, re-seal it before it starts to show noticeable signs of aging.
You can see below that this outdoor sofa that we built about 3 years ago is beginning to show signs of aging, so we’ll definitely want to re-seal it again this year.
The areas that are more prone to aging are the surfaces that receive the most direct sunlight and where the water will “sit” after a storm. In hindsight, I would’ve added an addition coat or two of Spar Urethane to the arm rests.
This sofa has never been covered and it sits outside all day every day, exposed to the sun, rain, and occasional snow.
You can extend the lifespan of both your finish and your wood by covering pine furniture during periods of heavy rain, snow, or extreme temperatures. This is something we haven’t done on any of our existing outdoor pine furniture, but it’s something we’re considering for the upcoming winter seasons.
What about treated pine wood?
I do not recommend treated wood for anything that you will be sitting on, eating off of, or having a lot of skin contact with. Though pressure-treated wood can last outdoors for up to 40 years without rotting, we avoid it due to the harsh chemicals.
Summary: can you use pine outside?
Untreated pine can be used outdoors and should last several years. With an exterior grade finish, proper care, and maintenance, the lifespan of pine can be extended further. Beyond maintenance, the amount of time pine wood will last outdoors will vary depending on where the pine is used, how much direct sunlight it receives, and the climate.
If you are looking for “permanent” structures like decks, or privacy screens that require posts, we recommend using pressure-treated pine or a naturally rot-resistant wood like cedar, teak, or redwood. With the right finish, care, and expectations of longevity, pine is a great option for budget-friendly outdoor furniture.